Gov. Ricardo Rossello made the announcement after negotiations with Puerto Rico's bondholders failed. Rossello said a federal control board overseeing the island's finances agreed with his request to put certain debts before a federal bankruptcy court.
The outcome of the case could have implications for financially troubled U.S. cities or states.
"We're going to protect our people," the governor said hours after the territory was hit with multiple lawsuits from creditors seeking to recuperate the millions of dollars they invested in bonds issued by Puerto Rico's government, which has declared several defaults amid a 10-year recession.
Rossello said one of the lawsuits sought to claim all revenues generated by the island's Treasury Department for bondholders.
"I'm not going to allow that to happen," he said.
Rossello said the debts of some agencies will be restructured in court, while others will be resolved through negotiations with bondholders. He said he did not yet have details on the breakdown of those debts. The island's Electric Power Authority owes some $9 billion, the Aqueducts and Sewer Authority has roughly $5 billion in outstanding debt and the Highways and Transportation Authority owes around $7 billion.